Read To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care by Cris Beam Free Online
Book Title: To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care|
The author of the book: Cris Beam
Edition: Mariner Books
Date of issue: September 2nd 2014
ISBN 13: 9780544103443
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 551 KB
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Reader ratings: 4.6
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I read this book because I was interested in adopting an older child. I found it difficult to find books about this topic and was very surprised that none of the Barnes and Nobles in my area had even one book on foster care or older adoption. Luckily my local bookstore (Elliot Bay Books) had at least two shelves of adoption books, though most of them are about infant adoption.
I quickly discovered why. Older child adoptions are not the same as the adoptions I had seen on TV and in movies. I thought: you go to an agency, process paperwork, wait a really long time, a kid shows up, interviews, adoption proceedings and despite hard times, they are your son/daughter forever.
Well, its much more complicated than that.
For example, older children's parents are given a 15-month grace period once their child enters the public care system, so that those parents still get a chance to come back and get their kids. This means constant delays in the process to give a kid permanency. Older children in the care system are not only NOT adopted right away, but when they enter foster care, the public system allows a 10-day return policy, where you can actually return your foster child within 10 days, to the serious detriment of the kid's emotional health. And being adopted right away isn't a good idea--Beam details a sight-unseen adoption which falls apart in a matter of months.
Foster care is not a happy subject, and Beam doesn't try to make it one, but she does achieve in making it feel real in its ups and downs. She introduces the reader to a happy foster family with a trove of kids, and lets you follow them across five years, where the true troubles of the foster care system play out, and the happy foster family (the Greens) are slowly unraveled. Some of their adoptions are great--like an open adoption for an infant, where the real father sticks around to stay involved but also keeps distance in case he relapses in his drug addiction. The natural father eventually makes the choice that's best for the child: keep the baby with the family he's already attached to, of which there is no drug addiction. They also have adoptions that "fail" -- such as, adopted kids runaway, get arrested, see their natural born parents and follow in their footsteps into crime or drugs.
The toughest part to read in the book is when she visits residential treatment centers, which are institutions where they send kids in the foster care system who have become violent or are generally troubled. In these centers, the state also sends kids with special needs and disabilities, and kids who are in juvenile detention. Before reading this book, I had a misconception that the traditional orphanage style home, where kids could get structure and be served to scale, was possibly a good idea. I learned I was very wrong. In fact, I learned that most of my assumptions about how to help troubled kids was completely wrong. These centers did nothing for these kids; if anything, it helped them down the path to crime or homelessness.
There is only one assumption I had that turned out to be about true: that unconditional love and a commitment to be the adult that "stays" with a troubled teen, could possibly help these kids begin to recover from a range of indescribable trauma: sexual, physical and mental abuse, a constant feeling of un-wantedness, self-doubt and blame and loss of contact of other family, and ever-present poverty. Beam interviews a foster home that fosters kids aging out or already aged out of the system (21 is the cut-off age where your benefits stop and the state is released of any responsibility to you), with a loose structure based around giving foster kids the space to regress through their trauma and get through it. The foster mom even recalls a 14-year-old that carried and drank from a baby bottle, as if working backwards through growth to relive what they've lost.
Through profiles of dozens of kids, you see a range of outcomes, but most importantly Beam illustrates the whole picture: generations of kids lost and confused, turned out to adulthood with only disastrous consequences, a public welfare system that is prioritized around child safety and structure (here's a roof over your head and rules to follow) instead of attachment (nurture the child to trust and love again) and permanent bonding (finding for kids, that one adult that stays, no matter the struggle).
Lastly, Beam's report of foster care calls into question the first action that society makes -- taking children from their parents. When the reason for splitting up a family is "neglect" and that interpretation is largely subjective and nebulous, it is dubious whether splitting the family apart is the best course of action, given the state of foster care and the effect on the parents. Given the disproportionate investment in a failing system, it'd be worth considering whether the same amount of state investment per child (upwards six figures through a whole foster care stint, which averages 4-5 years) would not be better spent given to invest in improving those natural born families struggling in the first place.
A friend of mine once told me there was a saying that "abortion was the bowling ball on the mattress of American politics." I wonder if it is not abortion, but foster care. In a singular issue, are the beginnings and ends of so many societal problems: crime, homelessness, poverty, drugs, racism and disease. Its a problem that's all of ours, and one that we need to solve.
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